The myths, the legends, the spectacle... the aurora borealis - Alaska Part 2 - September 2014


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November 22nd 2014
Published: January 4th 2018
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Chena Hot SpringsChena Hot SpringsChena Hot Springs

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Well how do you possibly top spending a day with bears who walk by you within an arms-reach, watching imposing glaciers that makes you feel insignificant and being surrounded by snow-covered mountains and volcanoes?

Well you don't unless you came to Alaska for... keep reading and you'll find out. We were back in ANCHORAGE about to start the second leg of our trip. We started making our way out east (only after buying bear spray and being informed by the local expert that bear spray is the best defense against burglars - who knew). The bear spray is a long story. Nikkie refused to hike to a glacier in our previous blog because what if we see a bear (she is the one with the common sense). So she refused to really walk/ hike anywhere in the wild without bear spray so a purchase we had to make. FYI - it is now 4 years later and that same bear spray is still unopened. We soon hit the EKLUTNA HISTORICAL PARK after a slight detour. An area established by missionaries it definitely is an interesting little break from all the scenery by visiting the ST. NICHOLAS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH and
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A welcome break from all the scenery
the CEMETERY. Brightly covered little wooden houses serving as grave markers and a little wooden church from way back when. It did take us quite a while to actually find it, but find it we did. As we continued we drove through some parts of the CHUGACH STATE PARK. We drove along a river strewn with dead trees/logs/ debris swept down over the years. The river was pretty low so it was a really unusual landscape. We passed the MATANUSKA GLACIER. You could see it stretching as far as the eye could see from the road. We made the turn-off since you can drive right up to the glacier, but we eventually decided to just keep going and not spend the time. Our destination for the day was Lake Louise Lodge next to you guessed it ... Lake Louise (truly right in the middle of nowhere and not to be confused with its Canadian counterpart). The hosts were really friendly and they had a 4-legged friend that kept us company pretty much our entire stay. Basic accommodation, but not much else was needed. We walked around the property for a while and also down to the lake. Our dining options
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Sunset. Not to be confused with Lake Louise Canada.
were pretty limited so we just decided to eat at the lodge. The chicken salad was very plain and the scallops w/ potatoes was pretty good. A couple local beers and brews helped to pass the time. We were here for one thing and one thing only - NORTHERN LIGHTS IN SEPTEMBER. This was just a stop on the way to the hot spot, but as we kept reading up on it we were getting more and more hopeful that we might actually end up seeing some action. Closer to December was more the prime time from what we read, but people do get lucky I guess. We went to bed and woke up around 1 or 2. I looked out the window and did not really see anything - we still decided to get up, drive down the road a little bit to escape all signs of light, and there we camped out ready with camera and tripod. Nikkie set everything up while I stayed in the car (great husband I am) - it was pretty cold (well below freezing). Nikkie set the timer and there we sat and watched. And nothing. And more nothing. Nikkie went to look
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Our 4-legged friend who kept us company our entire stay at Lake Louise
and said the camera actually captured some green light, but to the naked eye we could not see it. I got out and looked at the screen just to make sure she was not making up stuff. But yeah - there it was on the screen.

And then the sky started moving. First it looked like clouds just moving really fast all over the place. That was our first thought, because it was white and it was moving in just one direction. And then soon it turned green and the sky just started dancing (getting goose bumps now as I am sitting here writing it and thinking back). And it danced and danced and things just got crazy. Wow - one of those things you always imagine what it would be like and when you experience it you realize you were not even close. We were out there for a good hour watching and taking pictures. Wow. Wow. Wow. What a sight and experience. Oh the things that was created that is so far above our comprehension or understanding as to how and why. The next morning we got up - had some pancakes w/ berry sauce (not the
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It was kind of late in the year so there were dead salmon all over the place.
greatest) and biscuits and gravy w/ eggs (good), sat through a minor 6.2 earthquake (I sat right under this massive stuffed elk head) and afterwards joked about the title in the local newspaper (tourist killed by elk head during earthquake).

Soon after we left we hit GLENNALLEN TOWN (not even a 1-stop light town) and turned onto the RICHARDSON HIGHWAY that runs from VALDEZ TO FAIRBANKS. Talk about a straight and never-ending road. There were an endless number of salmon-filled streams and whichever way you turned there was a tall snow-covered mountain. I am pretty sure there were many, many GLACIERS hiding behind these mountains. And don't forget about the oil pipeline that runs pretty much the entire length of the highway. There were plenty of eagles. At one spot there were probably 40 to 50 eagles all sitting on a ridge just surveying the landscape. So we were not lacking any WILDLIFE.

We finally started seeing houses and after a quick visit to Santa Clause at the North Pole (and finding green chili tamales in Alaska of all places) we were in the final stretch getting to CHENA HOT SPRINGS RESORT (just outside Fairbanks) - known for
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Have you ever seen this many eagles together in one spot?
their location to see THE NORTHERN LIGHTS and also the hot springs. We kept watching the weather forecast every day because with clouds there's obviously no lights. For this night it was not looking too promising - cloudy, cloudy, cloudy. Accommodations are very basic. Very, very basic, but hey it is a bed. The largest permanent ice structure in the world, an ICE MUSEUM, is on the property. We did the tour (everything here is extra) after they offered us extra thick jackets to protect us against the cold. The inside was beautifully decorated in different areas with lights and colors and themes. There is also a STOLI ICE BAR where they made us an appletini as we sat on ice stools sipping away. Cool experience at the end of the day. For dinner we just stayed on the property and had the chowder (one of the biggest bowls of chowder I have ever seen) which was not good at all and salmon burger that was ok. It was an early night for us as we hoped the clouds would disappear.

At 1 in the morning it was that time again. Bitterly cold again - we got dressed as
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Lake/mountain views from the Richardson highway
warm as humanly possible and started a short little hike in the dark to a little observation tower that they have that is heated. There is some windows you can see out of but outside was just better so we spent most of our time outside. We set-up the camera again - there was some cloud coverage, but also some stars. We waited and waited and there it was just like before. Slow at first and then it started and it was the AURORA BOREALIS in all its glory. We even got some reds in as the colors danced across the sky. What an amazing and incredible experience as we stood there for this longest time in freezing cold weather watching this spectacle. It is right up there in the top 3 things that we have ever witnessed/ seen/ experienced.

The next morning we got up, had breakfast and got a quick taste of the HOT SPRINGS before it was time to pack-up and hit the road again. Yes - there was a lot of driving on this trip. After a quick stop in Fairbanks at The Cookie Jar for a halibut wrap (ok) and Cookie Jar burger (1/2
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More and more incredible snow-covered mountains with lake reflections
lb. patty with cheddar and Swiss cheese, a slice of ham and crisp bacon) (pretty good) we continued onward to our last and final destination of the trip - DENALI NATIONAL PARK. I found a last minute reservation at the Denali Lakeview Inn just outside HEALY. Somewhat unusual in that we were told where the key would be and not to bother the owners unless absolutely necessary. Besides this oddity it was a really nice room with an awesome view of a LAKE and the mountains. We just unpacked and set off to see if we could get into the park which was probably about 15 - 20 miles away. We got there - saw some bighorn sheep on the way - and at the very entrance of the park they were busy with construction. Are you kidding me? After asking about the duration they said definitely the rest of the day and most likely tomorrow. We were not happy campers. We did come a long way for this and yeah we have seen some pretty awesome things, but DENALI MOUNTAIN was pretty high up on the list as well. We made the trek back and as this is a
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Someone is in their happy place at the North Pole
pretty rural part of the world and this was also kind of off-season we just started driving to see what we could find for food. Within the first couple miles we saw the 49th State Brewing Company. It looked interesting and relatively busy so why not give it a try. It had some great decor, an excellent beer menu, great vibe, and good people. We got the bullinerweisser beer (like a champagne) and a couple other beers. Also the food on this trip was truly disappointing for the most part, but this definitely made up for it. I was in Alaska and I have not had Alaskan king crab legs yet and the middle of Alaska is probably not the place to pick them, but I also figured it would still be better than anywhere else in the other 49 states. So I gave it a shot and it was phenomenal. Nikkie had a salmon salad that was really good as well so we left as very happy customers.

The night brought some more spectacular lights, but we were so tired from this trip and considering we probably slept a total of 6 hours the two nights before that
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The ice museum and decorations
it was going to take something truly spectacular to get us up. I got up once during the night and there was some activity and it looked really cool over the lake and with the mountains in the background, but it was mostly white/ greenish in color so kind of just the usual stuff. I looked for a while and then crawled into bed to avoid the cold.

There was still a lot of uncertainty in the morning as to what we were going to do. We got to the park entrance and it was open. Yes - the Denali gods were looking down on us. The entrance and entrance type was a little confusing. I know after some point the paved road just stops and you can't go any further, but there was also a lot of uncertainty whether the regular roads were even open after September. We kept going and going and got in a good 10 to 15 miles before we were stopped and could not go any further. The landscape is very varied and pretty. It was a great clear day so we got a clear view of the big one (highest peak in North
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Drinks at the ice bar
America) which I heard is also somewhat unusual as she is covered almost 200 days out of the year - so we were very grateful that she showed herself to us. We definitely saw some GRIZZLIES roaming around for food as well as the TUNDRA and a decent amount of foliage as the leaves were still changing colors. We really took our time driving back to the main road looking for that elusive moose, but it was nowhere to be found. All we found was a couple sheep (we did see one very, very far away). When they are that far away they simply don't count.

We started the long trek back to Anchorage and along the way stopped at a random coffee stand in the middle of nowhere to get a cup-of-joe. I guess that is just how they do things here. What a trip and what an adventure. Not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that Alaska would have been like this and that there was going to be a surprise in store for us around every corner. Glaciers, bears and aurora borealis. Alaska - you delivered and then some.




Likes
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Got some glimpses of red

- the mountains and the scenery was out of this world on the drive along the Richardson highway
- the breweries!! We never knew there were this many breweries in Alaska. We did try the beers from the Denali Brewing Company and the Alaskan Brewing Company as well and they were all great
- the unexpected awesome food at the 49th State Brewing Company. It was a true surprise

Dislikes
- as kind of mentioned in the previous part the food portions are just astronomical
- it definitely was a disappointment that you can only drive like the first 1/5th or so of the road in Denali. I am sure they have their reasons for it and it probably has been like that for a very long time, but it was still a bummer

Advice
- go slow on these long open roads. Hitting a moose (the ones we did not see) on these roads will not be a pretty site.
- stop often and admire the views around you and take in the fresh air. Man the air definitely just smells better here
- plan ahead for accommodation. Again we tend to do things very, very last
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Flashes of light just streaking across the sky
minute, but here this could be harder just because a lot of things are so isolated and cell phone service is not always reliable

And that concludes our great Alaskan adventure. 3 more things to cross-off including the Northern Lights, the Richardson Highway, and the Alaskan Wilderness. So 288 down and 5,493 to go.

Til next time from the land of the dancing skies


Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


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Chena Hot SpringsChena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs

Aurora Borealis
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Chena Hot Springs

Don't we kind of remind you of those monkeys in China who sit in the hot springs when it snows?
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Denali

Otto lake from our room
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Denali

Otto lake at night
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Alaska

Good stuff
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Alaska

Just more landscapes
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Denali National Park

There she be - Denali


4th January 2018

tourist killed by elk head during earthquake
Scared of falling elk heads and bears? I hear bears are very civilised. When our son was living in Whistler he found a bear in the lift at the tavern he was working in one evening! Gotta consider getting to Alaska...some of your pics are so dangerously enticing...maybe worth risking falling elk heads to enjoy dancing skies some day.
5th January 2018

Thanks for all your comments. Definitely would put it right up there as one of our best trips ever and would highly recommend it.
4th January 2018
Alaska

Oooooh man
Is this a stunning shot or what?
4th January 2018
Chena Hot Springs

One for the pool room
Great shot for the Family Album. Hot springs and an ice bar...extra points for that!!!

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